UTIL­ITY pIck GAINS SUp­pORT FROM FOR­MER DE­TRAc­TORS

Austin American-Statesman - - LOCALBRIEFING -

As City Man­ager Marc Ott re­turns to­day from Cal­i­for­nia, where he fin­ished a last round of due-dili­gence re­search on his pick to run Austin En­ergy, some early skep­tics now ac­cept the choice.

When Larry Weis, Ott’s pick, and two other Cal­i­for­ni­abased fi­nal­ists were an­nounced a month ago, Mayor Lee Leff­in­g­well had been open to the idea of re­open­ing the search but said this week, “it’s time to move for­ward” with Ott’s choice. At least two other coun­cil mem­bers raised ques­tions about the search process, but that has not led to a push to re­open the search.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the busi­ness com­mu­nity said they were im­pressed with Weis, head of the Tur­lock Ir­ri­ga­tion District in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Ini­tially, many en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists were sur­prised that the fi­nal­ists did not in­clude Karl Rábago, who over­sees Austin En­ergy’s re­new­able-en­ergy pro­grams. Al­though they stopped push­ing for Rábago once Ott made clear he wanted an ex­ter­nal can­di­date, a panel of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and ad­vo­cates for the poor de­clared that none of the fi­nal­ists were suit­able.

Robin Rather is among the ac­tivists still push­ing to re­open the search. “It is not at all clear he’s got the right stuff for a dy­namic clean in­dus­try pow­er­house like Austin,” she said.

Tom “Smitty” Smith, head of the Texas chap­ter of Pub­lic Cit­i­zen, a govern­ment watchdog and en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cacy group, said he still holds sim­i­lar con­cerns about Weis’ vi­sion for the util­ity. But Smith said he saw enough good qual­i­ties in Weis — in­clud­ing a com­mit­ment to trans­parency and con­cerns that large-scale car­bon use is hurt­ing the en­vi­ron­ment — that he trusts Ott’s choice.

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